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Writing about the royals: Interview with Alexander Larman, books editor at The Spectator World

Power and Glory

The popularity of the Royals has waxed and waned over the years, but they remain a source of interest for both the public and the media – particularly recently. Alexander Larman has covered the UK royal family extensively, both in his journalism for The Spectator World, and as an author with his trilogy of books, the latest being ‘Power & Glory’.

We caught up with him to discuss his work, how to get commissions for arts and books features, and the difficulties of writing about the royals. 

You work as arts editor and books editor at the Spectator World, what are you looking for when it comes to commissioning work in these two fields?

A lot of people can put together a pithy or witty sentence or two on social media, but to be able to review a book, film or exhibition with a genuine understanding of context and history? Nope, that’s a rare skill. 

I have a broad monthly section to fill at the Spectator World, and I am in the fortunate position that because I’m so limited, I only commission the people who can write really well about fascinating subjects. And they do exist, from household name authors to brilliant young women (they’re always women in my experience) in their twenties. I’ve been doing it since 2021 and it’s the thing, apart from my own books, that I’m proudest of professionally.

What advice would you give to any aspiring journalists either covering royalty or arts and entertainment?

I literally have no idea what to advise anyone writing about the royal family; I’ve pursued it in such an unorthodox fashion that I’m probably the last person to give advice (be a republican?). I find it fascinating in its blend of history, politics, social awareness and straightforward gossip, but I never planned for it to become a major part of my career; I’m not the kind of person who had a picture of Elizabeth II above my bed as a child. 

As for arts and entertainment, that’s easier; go to the theatre, cinema, galleries, opera, etc., and discover what you really care about, and what you’d be happiest pitching articles about to editors. We say ‘no’ more than we say ‘yes’, because we simply don’t have enough space in our titles to include every interesting story, so it’s got to be really gripping and on-point to make it in. But a lot of people can’t write, so if you can, that’s you scoring over 90% of the competition.

Could you tell us a bit about your latest book and how you came about writing it?

‘Power & Glory’ is the third in the ‘Windsors trilogy’ that began with Edward VIII’s abdication crisis in 1936 and ends with Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. In between, all hell breaks loose. I’d written two earlier books, ‘The Crown in Crisis’ and ‘The Windsors at War’, which told the story of the royal family in two highly dramatic periods. Therefore, it made logical sense to finish the narrative that I’d begun. I was, admittedly, nervous before I started writing it, because the other two stories were so rich in dramatic interest that I worried that this part would be an anticlimax. Not a bit of it, thankfully; if anything, it’s the epic finale that I’d dreamt of, thanks to some thrilling new material that’s reproduced here for the first time.

Are you working on another book, or do you have other projects under way?

I’ve actually got two books commissioned at the moment, which is unusual for me as I work one book at a time usually. The next one is a subject dear to my heart, tackled in an unusual and hopefully rewarding way, but under wraps for the time being, but I will say it’s both an enormous change of pace and the logical continuation to a series of stories I’ve told about everyone from Byron and Lord Rochester to the Duke of Windsor. And then the one after that was actually suggested by my brilliant editor in the US, Michael, and I bit his hand off to write it. It’s going to be an indecent amount of fun to research and I can’t wait to tell everyone more about both of them.

What books are you reading right now, or about to pick up? 

I’m just reading Charles Spencer’s ‘A Very Private School’, and I finished David Nicholls’s new novel, ‘You Are Here’, last week. I always have a massive reading list to get through – as a reviewer and literary editor, you have to know what’s out there – and if I don’t read a couple of books a week, I feel as if I’ve failed.

You can pick up a copy of Alexander’s latest book, here. If you would like to get in contact with him then you can do so via his website.

And if you’re a journalist looking to get information on the Royals or wanting to find the latest books to review, then send a request on the Journalist Enquiry Service to get what you need.

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